Saturday, 30 March 2013

The Grey (2012)

I know he was Oskar Schindler, but ever since I saw his other defining film it's been hard not to associate Liam Neeson with "that guy who punches Albanians in the face for 90 minutes in Taken". So when The Grey comes along and side-swipes me by being more than "that guy punching wolves in the face for 90 minutes"it was quite a pleasant surprise.

Don't get me wrong, there is a significant amount of wolf punching but it all feels a bit hopeless. The Grey, as is probably hinted at in such a title, is bleak. Neeson's opening monologue describes the oil plant in the sticks of Alaska where he works as "at the end of the world" and a place for "men unfit for mankind".

It continues as it starts too. After a brief brush with the perils of suicide while on work, Neeson and his co-workers are flying back to civilisation on leave when their plane crashes in the middle of the wilderness and the few remaining survivors must battle the elements and the predators of the wild to survive. They are without food, without shelter, without weapons and, most significantly, without hope of rescue.

There are more wolves than men. And you can't beg, buy or reason with wolves. As soon as the survivors first encounter their foes it's clear to all how this is going to play out. If anything, the tension and sense of isolation that builds as the group predictably dwindles feels downright reminiscent of Alien. The Grey owes a lot to the sci-fi horror in that sense. It might not live up to rival such a classic, but it's certainly part of its worthy legacy.

The Grey gives you a full cast despite the clear fate of most of them. Once the literal plane-load of people gets thinned out a bit you really start to get to know the survivors in a way that most survival/monster movies don't allow. The wolves are a constant threat, but they're not constantly on screen or chewing on the necks of the cast. the sizeable lulls in the action give ample room for some worthy characters who are deserving of the sympathy and give the fittingly bleak ending some actual emotional weight.

The only real negative I took away from The Grey is the length that those dialogue heavy scenes add to the film. I wouldn't want them removed whatsoever, but this film clocks in at a hair under two hours and it certainly feels like it.

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